Tag Archives: cocktails

Punching Things Up

Because it has been a shamefully long time since I graced you with an update, I have many things I could write about right now. I cracked the code on what is nearly perfect chili, made my own tonic water, and baked some truly fabulous peanut butter cookies. But I feel that we must begin at the beginning, and that is a lovely class I attended on punch-making in December with my good friend Nandi and her husband, the Baby Panda (BP).

Nandi had found the class via Slow Food Boston. Slow Food started in Rome back in 1986. as a response to a McDonald’s being built near the Spanish Steps. The opposite of fast food is, you guessed it, slow food. What began as a reaction to international big business interests became over time an advocacy group focused on “Good, Clean, Fair” food. The Boston chapter apparently also has some cocktail enthusiasts, however, and they arranged a punch-making class at perennial Adventures in Food favorite Craigie on Main.

When we arrived at Craigie on an extremely cold, blustery day, bar manager Ted Gallagher greeted us with Charles Dickens Punch, served hot, sweet, and spiced.
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(Sadly, you mostly get the aftermath, because it was very tasty. Loved the use of the rosemary sprig to simulate pine branches!) Like the Red Hot Ale served at the Science of the Cocktail lecture, this is a drink that involves setting things on fire, so we didn’t actually get to watch the process of making it (though there was some cell phone video footage), but it was a nice way to kick off the class on a cold winter day!

Ted quickly got us started making an oleo saccharum, the base of most classic punches. Oleo saccharum translates, quite literally, as oily sugar, and it’s the product of taking some citrus peels and some sugar and first muddling the hell out of them,and then leaving them alone for a while. You have to peel the citrus carefully to get as much oil and as little bitter pith as possible.
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Next, you dump a bunch (carefully measured, of course) of sugar in and start muddlin’!

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I confessed to the group that I secretly sort of love to muddle – sure it’s tedious, but it’s satisfying and oddly cathartic. This earned me control of the muddler for most of the class. I think the others were afraid of it.

While we muddled away, Ted brought out some Milk Punch for us to sample. They’d made three kinds.

Milk Punch (You can see my hand, muddling like a fiend in the background of this shot. Obvi, I did not take this picture. It, and some of the others in this post, were taken by the BP and his fancy new phone. Thanks, BP!) The orange glass was strawberry milk punch, with strawberry bourbon, black tea, and dehydrated strawberry powder. The pink was hibiscus gin with lemon, sage, and apricot liqueur, while the yellow was rum-based, with toasted coconut and pear. I like the orange the best, and the yellow least, due to my mixed feelings regarding coconut.

In case you’ve forgotten what milk punch is, basically you combine a liquor, milk, and citrus to coagulate said milk. You strain off the resultant solids and get a  clear but creamy tasting product that tastes like whatever you put in. It’s a bit time-consuming, so Ted showed us the process, but the samples had all been prepped well before hand.

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You know what’s gross? Coagulated milk solids. Curds Ted told a horrifying story of a bartender who battered and fried those things. I know it’s the basis of cheese, but yuck. Despite my complaints, however, I really want to make this myself. It’s so wonderfully mad sciencey.

For the final punch, Ted demonstrated that punch is really all about ratios – if you understand the proportions (about 3 lemons to 750ml of alcohol) you can throw in whatever flavors strike your fancy and be just fine. We made a sort of punch by committee – Ted mixed, we told him what spirits to use. By all rights it shouldn’t have worked, we had so many assertive liquors in there. Balmore Scotch, with the iodine smell of peat, the funk of Batavia Arack and Smith and Cross rum, two kinds of citrus – but when it all came together it was like magic.

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Improvised Punch

All in all, this was a great class with a good mix of hands-on-work and samples. I can’t wait to have a big party and try out some of the principles – it should be great!

Cocktails and Science

In previous posts I’ve outlined my love of food science, and of Harold McGee particularly. And of course, my affection for cocktails is welldocumented. So it will come as no surprise to hear that when I had the opportunity to hear the man himself talk about the science of cocktails, I was all over it.

I gave the heads up to my friend Jess, another avid cocktail fan, and we set out to get schooled. Joining Mr.McGee was Dave Arnold, the Director of Culinary Technology at The French Culinary Institute. Basically, the way the lecture worked was that Dave would do something crazy onstage, usually involving fire, then hand out the resultant samples while Harold would talk about the science of taste and the physical properties of alcohol. In other words, it was awesome.

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This was bourbon mixed with the very essence of banana – banana juice, if you will. It was uncanny.

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Scotch with all of its impurities removed (but not its flavor). It was weird – the skeleton of Scotch.

The best part of the night came when Dave made his recipe for Red Hot Ale, a drink that dates back to Colonial times. First, he demonstrated the method with a hot poker – the drink was traditionally made by sticking irons from the hearth into a mug.
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Clearly, that’s no longer a practical option, so Dave invented his own hot poker. Alas, it’s not really ready for the average bar just yet.

So then he showed us his stove-top method, which was…dramatic.
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That’s Harold and a lab assistant, singeing off their eyebrows.

This was easily the most delicious drink of the night, despite (because of?) the fireworks. Here’s a recipe if you’re interested – I’ll admit I have a slight fear of burning alcohol. Maybe one day I’ll get brave enough, though, because the caramelized beer and cognac is truly remarkable.
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They also played around with making stable oil emulsions with pumpkin seed oil, making for a thick, fatty drink that won’t separate:
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A combo of gum arabic and xanthan gum achieves this magic. I wasn’t incredibly into this particular drink, but the idea of making truly stable emulsions is intriguing – perhaps a different oil would have been more enjoyable.

My favorite actual science moment of the night came when Harold explained why adding water to spirits like whiskey enhances its flavor – something that has always fascinated me. Essentially, it all comes down to the fact that ethanol, the alcohol we drink, attracts aroma molecules. Aroma molecules (remember, most of taste is really smell) hang out little molecular cages on the ethanol because they’re similar in structure to it.This stops them from reaching your nose. On the other hand, they HATE water. When you add water to a drink you drop the concentration of the alcohol and these aroma compounds, break free from their cages for us to enjoy. Here’s a more coherent explanation from Harold himself.

Speaking of which, this post took me so darn long to get out that I’m leaving it mostly pictures. Here’s a better recap of the actual science at the lecture by Frederick Yarm, who is a far more dedicated cocktail blogger than I am. (If you are at all interested in mixology, and especially if you live in Boston, you should be reading his blog.)

Harvard does a whole series of these lectures using McGee’s On Food and Cooking as the text, and the guest lectures, all by amazing chefs and food scientists, are open to the public. If you’re local to Cambridge check them out!

Holiday Cookies

Happy holidays, everyone! I apologize for the longish blog silence, but between the holidays and some other madness that’s gone on, there hasn’t been much time for writing. Additionally, there is a big post in the works that I hope to publish in the next week or so. In the meantime, how have you all been, my fellow food-adventurers? If you celebrate your holidays in a gift-giving way, did you give and receive great gifts? I certainly did! Friends and family were very generous with the kitchen-wares this year, and I’m excited to spend some time working with my new tools and sharing them with you all!

Before I get into that, however, I thought I’d update you with my annual Christmas baking. Long-time readers will remember that Mr. Menace and I host an annual cookie decorating party, and this year was no exception! In fact, we hosted more people than any year yet, which meant quite a bit of baking. Luckily, I had two stalwart companions to help with this process. The first was my sister, Kelly, who generously donated her time and talents to helping me roll out and cut over 160 sugar cookies! (She also assisted with decor and platter-making – thanks, Kel!) In her honor I created a new cocktail at the party:
1.5 oz Barbancourt Rum
1 oz Laird’s Applejack
.5 oz St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram
.5 oz lime juice
Barspoon Trader Tiki’s Cinnamon Syrup
Dash Fee’s Whiskey Barrel Bitters

Shake ingredients with ice. Strain and serve! (Full disclosure: The lime juice was an afterthought in the original, but it makes a HUGE difference from something a bit too heavy and sweet into something much brighter and tastier.)

My second helper was the sugar cookie recipe from the Flour Bakery cookbook. I’ve mentioned this cookbook before, but it bears repeating: these recipes are fantastic! Well-thought out and easy to execute. I suspect you may be subject to another post or two as I work my way through this. In any case, people really enjoyed the cookies, and the dough was very easy to work with – I know because while Kelly did a lot of the heavy lifting on the party cookies, we made them again for family cookie decorating, and my 5 year-old niece and I rolled and cut those. Thank you to Joanne Chang for a super recipe!

This year I did not take pictures of the individual winners of every category as the party went a bit late, but I did get pictures of the voting plates – we had so many cookies that I asked folks to submit their cookies into the contest. We also changed the categories up a bit this year to include a “Rookie of the Year” – the Rookie Cookie, if you will – to acknowledge the many folks who’d not had the chance to hone their skills over 5 years of frosting manipulation. So here we have:
The Classics – mostly folks using the shapes as they were intended:
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That said, the winner here was the Mr. Hanky cookie, which I would NOT consider traditional use of the shape. What can I do, though, the people spoke! Kudos to The Goog.

Next we have the opposite category, Best Use of Shape:
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The winner here was that lovely mermaid! It began life as a trout, but became so much more. Congratulations, Jenn!

The Most Artistic Cookies:
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The winner here was Mr. Menace, with the fire-elemental. Truly he has a talent for the frosting medium.

The Rookie Cookies:
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This vote ended up being a battle between two pop-culture titans – as well as between the couple who decorated them! It came down to one vote – for Raphael the Ninja Turtle, just beating out The Thing. Congratulations, Jill – I hope Matty has forgiven you.

The last category was also a subject of some shenanigans. This was the “What the Hell?!” category, a popular one in the voting. Technically, Mr. Menace won this category as well. However, he did not submit his own cookie for voting, and had already won, so I stepped in and judged in favor of the next cookie, the “Out of Body Experience” cookie by Emily. I am not going to post the picture directly because Mr. Menace’s cookie is…well, NSFW. I will link the photo page and you may click if you feel up to it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Congratulations on your win, Emily! Sorry your cookie shared a plate with…that.

To cleanse us of that image, here are some bonus photos from family Christmas:
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Aren’t they great? Mom did the elf, and my sister Kate made the Foofa and Megamind cookies (among others).

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Cookiethulu and a micro-cephalic angel.

My five-year old niece did this one:
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I think it’s pretty great! Then again, her mom did the Mega-mind in the first photo, so talent must be hereditary, though I think it skipped me.

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Kelly did the Big Bird!

Dad clearly likes the creative use of shape category:
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Thank you so much to everyone who came and decorated cookies with us! I feel so privileged to know so many amazing, creative people and I love sharing the holiday with you. I hope you have a very happy New Year, and that we will see you at Cookie Decorating 2011 – the Reckoning!

Summer Favorites

For the first time in about 3 years, we here in the Northeast are experiencing a real summer – multiple weeks of sunshine and temperatures above 70° F. Previous so-called summers have been gray, cloudy, and cool, but 2010 is reminding us what the season is really like – hot. Hot, and sticky, and wonderful if you happen to be at the beach, but frankly a little bit gross all of the rest of the time.

Despite the grossness, there are lots of good things about a proper summer – the plants love this weather, and with proper watering are producing scads of beautiful fruits and vegetables. Grilling is not only fun, it’s downright necessary to avoid heating your kitchen to surface of the sun level temperatures. And there are some terrific summery cocktails that seem only right when the mercury soars over 80°. In honor of the true sunny summer of 2010 today I thought I’d share a few of my favorite summer treats!

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Forget the over-sized, flavorless monsters at the supermarket. Real strawberries are tiny, sweet, and floral-tasting, and they need plenty of sun to grow. This year’s crop has been outstanding.

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These were the first tomatoes from my garden! I have a hard time doing anything too fancy with fresh garden tomatoes, because they are so insanely good on their own, with maybe just a sprinkling of salt to bring out the flavor. These turned a beautiful orangey-red as soon as the weather turned hot, and tasted sweet yet a bit meaty at the same time. I still believe that anyone who hates raw tomatoes needs to eat one right off the plant before making their final verdict. If you still hate them after that, well there’s just no hope for you.

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Honestly, my favorite grilled food of all time is spareribs. But last year Mr. Menace and I started buying chicken wings, and this year I found the recipe of my dreams. The only modification I’ve made is to use one tablespoon of chili sauce instead of two – I use Sriracha and one tablespoon is plenty hot enough. That said, I wouldn’t recommend taking it out entirely – without it all of that molasses and honey becomes cloyingly sweet – the spice cuts it down and balances it out. Leave the wings soaking for several hours instead of one and throw these on the grill and you will have the most beautiful lacquered chicken wings it has been my pleasure to eat. Sweet, spicy, and garlicky – these would be a great party food!

Finally, they’d pair well with what I consider the ultimate summer cocktail:
Singapore Sling
This, my friends, is a Singapore Sling; that is to say it’s ONE interpretation of a Singapore Sling. What’s tricky about the Singapore Sling is that it’s one of those drinks that has a somewhat contentious history among cocktail historians. It was quite possibly invented at the Raffles Hotel by Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915, although even that is not a set-in-stone fact. The problem is that there are many, many different recipes floating about, and no real consensus as to which is the right one. The one I use comes from Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology, and is notable, I think, for it lack of grenadine, which makes it both less red and less sweet than what you’ll often be served at a bar. It requires:
2 oz gin
1/2 oz Cherry Heering
1/4 oz Benedictine
1/2 oz triple sec
2 oz pineapple juice
3/oz fresh lime juice
Angostura bitters to taste
club soda

Basically, shake all of the ingredients except for the club soda (unless you enjoy a mess, and flat soda) and strain into a collins glass full of ice. Top with the club soda and enjoy.

This is my perfect summer drink because in this form it is light, a little frothy, and not-too-sweet. As I noted above, most other recipes I’ve seen include grenadine, which is a bit much for me, although if you use real pomegranate syrup, as Ted Haigh suggests in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, it’s probably quite a bit better. Mr. Haigh, also known as Dr. Cocktail, also shares a recipe in that book for the Straits Sling, which he believes to be the precursor to the Singapore Sling. If you have a strong interest in cocktail history, that book is a great, usable place to start!.

So there you have it – not a complete list by any means of my summer favorites, but a fine place to start. What are you particularly loving this summer?

Delicious Vinegar

Vinegar can be a very polarizing substance. Mr. Menace, for example, cannot stand the stuff, and thus shuns all foods related to or soaking in it. This means that the many olives, pickles, and bizarre condiments that populate our refrigerator tend to belong to me. This doesn’t really bother me since I am on the complete opposite end of the spectrum – I absolutely love it, can’t get enough, and am just as happy not to ever have to share (until my equally delighted friends or family come over, of course). There’s a part of me that feels a little bit bad that he doesn’t enjoy vinegar, however – think of everything he’s missing out on! Pickles, clearly, are the n’est plus ultra of vinegar-based cuisine, but it’s also the base of certain types of barbecue, infinite marinades, and sushi rice. Since Colonial times, it’s also been the key ingredient in a variety of refreshing drinks.

For most Americans this will come as somewhat of a surprise. Knocking a back a cold glass of acetic acid, as vinegar is known chemically, hardly sounds appealing. Yet our forefathers considered it the key component to many delicious and even healthful beverages, and in other parts of the world the tradition continues. Now, thanks to the craft cocktail movement, we in the US are rediscovering the joys of drinking vinegar.
Mind you, I’m not talking here about unfiltered apple cider vinegar, which many health food enthusiasts, raw foodists and the like dutifully drink for its many nutritional benefits. I’m talking about vinegar that you drink for fun and the flavor, often enhanced with a bit of liquor. I’m talking about shrubs.

Clearly, I don’t mean the bushes growing in your front yard. In culinary terms, a shrub is a sweet vinegar concoction. It’s made by infusing vinegar with fruit or spices, and combining that with sugar syrup. The vinegar used isn’t the harsh white vinegar that most of us have in our kitchen cabinets, however. Mellower, sweeter vinegars such as apple cider or wine are the typical base. The result is a tart, fruity syrup that is delicious diluted a bit with soda water – or even better, employed in a cocktail.

Cocktailnerd points out that in many ways these sweet, fruity vinegars are the perfect cocktail ingredient, as they combine the sweetness of sugar or juice with the sour notes of citrus – a combination that many, many popular cocktails employ. The original makers of shrub had more practical concerns in mind when they made it, however; shrubs were a good way to save all-too-ephemeral fruit in the days before refrigeration and ensure access to its abundant vitamins long after the growing season was over. Potable water being a scarce commodity, however, it made as much sense to mix your shrub with rum or brandy as with anything else, and was quite possibly the healthier option. While this is no longer the case for most of us living in the modern, Western world, the combination just works.

Vinegar is enjoying an upswing in popularity as a cocktail ingredient – many are looking at it as the next frontier for serious cocktail geeks, the latest hot drink addition. This means that, should you be keen to whip up your own batch of shrub, recipes abound.

Luckily for those of us with less time on our hands, Tait Farms makes a lovely series of shrubs all ready to pop into your cocktail of choice. My fantastic local cocktail supply emporium, The Boston Shaker, carries the full line, and after trying them nearly a year ago I decided to finally commit and buy a bottle. I selected the ginger shrub as I tend to be a bigger fan of spice than fruit in my cocktails. Bringing it home I searched for drink recipes that employed shrub, but most of them were pretty straight forward – mix it into the liquor of your choice and add a bit of soda water or other bubbly beverage. Since ginger is pretty much BFFs with rum in a Dark ‘n Stormy, I decided to make a variation on that – first with soda water, then with ginger beer in a sort of “Dark ‘n Stormy Plus.” (Yes, I was even using Gosling’s branded ginger beer! Thanks for bringing it home, Mr. Menace!)
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The first version, with the soda water, was light and refreshing, with a crisp ginger taste and just a hint of musty vinegar. It was very good, but not the rhapsodic shrub experience many have reported. At that point it was just another interesting addition to the many bitters, syrups and tinctures that I already own. Then I tried it in the Dark ‘n Stormy.

That was a very different matter. A veritable ginger explosion. And it was outstanding.

The shrub totally enhanced the flavors of both ginger beer and rum, deepening them and tying them more tightly together. Everything was MORE and yet not at all overwhelming. I’m officially in love.

If any of you out there have tried shrubs before, what have you done with them? I’m eager to figure out other great recipes, but I’d love some ideas!

Summer Drinks

To be fair, it’s not quite summer just yet, but despite the fact that May has really only just gotten underway, we’ve already seen a few scorching temperatures, most of which happened during the Great Water Debacle of 2010. As the mercury soars, the weighty, spice-filled drinksof the fall and winter lose their appeal, and a young lady’s fancy turns to gin and drinks kissed with citrus.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think a Vieux Carre or a Manhattan are the bee’s knees – but one has to give in to the demands of the season. I vastly prefer roasted squash to a raw salad, but not only is it uncomfortable to crank the oven to 400° when the thermometer reads 80°, it’s a bit too heavy, hanging out like lead in one’s overheated stomach. So it is with cocktails; light, refreshing, and often bubbly are the watchwords of the warmer months.

To that end, I’ve been playing around with a few new drink recipes! Some, like this one, are just variations on a theme:
Basil Collins
Essentially, it’s a Tom Collins – it’s got gin (Hendrick’s, my personal favorite), lemon juice, sweetener, and club soda. The difference is in that Bulleit bottle in the background – don’t be fooled, it’s not the lovely bourbon – that’s merely the container. Rather, it’s a basil liqueur that I put together a while back – basil leaves steeped in vodka, then mixed with simple syrup. It’s light green, herbal and faintly tasting of anise, and I used in place of the sugar in the Collins. My theory was that the basil would go nicely with the Hendrick’s, and I was right! There are a few drops of orange bitters as well, for good measure.

More exciting was this:
Rum Cocktail

Though it wasn’t intentional, it’s a variation on the Rum Swizzle, though one of considerably less sweetness. Alas, it’s also not swizzled, although I suppose you could – due to the falernum and gomme syrup I prefer it shaken. Also included are two kinds of rum and lime juice. As loyal readers of this blog know I have a hard time naming drinks, but I’m trying to improve. I pondered what rum and lime signify to me, and came up with the beach, even though I’ve never been to a beach that served such things. Okay, well, what do I think of when I think of beach? The first association that springs to my head is the house in Hull that my father’s family used to own. It was a beautiful old Victorian that was directly on the most amazing (to my young mind) beach – it had these rock walls filled with vibrant tidal pools that were literally teeming with life – teeny fish and seaweed and snails and sometimes even small lobsters. It was a wonderful place to run around as a kid, and is my most essential definition of the word beach. The name of that beach (or possibly the public one next to it, to be fair) was Gun Rock Beach. While Gun Rock and Hull are hardly a tropical paradise, it seemed like a fitting enough name. And so I present the Gun Rock Swizzle:
2 oz Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
1 oz Rhum Barbancourt
.5 oz lime juice (do I even have to say fresh squeezed?)
.5 oz falernum
.25 oz gomme syrup
2-3 dashes orange bitters
lime twist

Put all ingredients into a mixing glass with cracked ice. Shake and strain into an ice filled rocks glass. For a more authentic swizzle, stir rather than shake. Garnish with the twist!

One order of business – there is now an Adventures in Food group page on Facebook! I set this up so that local readers can easily sign up for adventures they might want to be a part of, and so that all readers could suggest new adventures and ideas they’d like to see discussed on the blog. It’s easier for me than sending 1 million emails or scrolling through the contents. So, if you have a Facebook account, please join!

The Wry Buccaneer

Hello friends! Are you ready for a cocktail recipe, and a tale of heartbreak and redemption? (or maybe nothing quite that dramatic.) I recently purchased a bottle of St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, and have had a fun week trying to come up with a cocktail that incorporates its pungent, spicy flavor.

Allspice Dram is a rum-based liqueur, rather sweet and extremely redolent of the allspice from which it takes its name. Or rather, I should say its new name – the liqueur is a cleverly marketed update of a once-forgotten classic cocktail ingredient called Pimento Dram. Haus Alpenz, the importer of St. Elizabeth, wisely realized when they brought it back that most denizens of the United States associate pimento with the cherry pepper used to fill olives, rather than Pimenta dioica, the plant from which we gather the berries to make allspice. I’m not sure that I’d be as enthusiastic about an infusion of the olive-filling pimentos, although such a thing might be delicious in some variant of a Martini. But I digress!

The typical use of this liqueur seems to have been in tropical drinks, which makes sense given both its provenance and the rum base. However, despite my love of a good tiki party, I am not usually a tropical cocktails at home sort of gal. Generally, whenever I can I’m looking for a way to get my beloved whiskey into a drink! My original thought was bourbon. I have a very strong, vanilla-heavy bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year right now, so I thought I’d balance it out with some Gosling’s Dark. I added the Allspice Dram, and for good measure a barspoon of falernum as a nod to the tropics. A dash of chocolate bitters and…

It was awful. Ok, that’s not entirely true. The first sip was a bit awful – the falernum was too limey and was not playing nicely with the bourbon. As the drink warmed up that faded but the Rip Van Winkle’s was far too assertive and the whole drink just tasted of it.

And yet…there was something to this idea that I’d had. I had a feeling that with a few tweaks I could still make this work. I changed two ingredients and lo and behold, it did work! Lord, did it! So well that Mr. Menace, who is overly fond of cocktails and particularly loses no love for whiskey, declared that he would actually request this cocktail of me! So what were the magical changes?

Well, I solved the falernum problem by switching it to orgeat. This kept the sweetness and almond flavor while ridding me of the citrus that was overpowering the first part of the drink. Since the other big bully was the Rip Van Winkle, that clearly also needed to go. However, Old Overholt Rye turned out to be the perfect substitute, keeping the whiskey notes I craved while keeping harmony with the other ingredients. Success!

In a nod to the rum and the allspice dram, I decided that this drink needed a piratical name. Since rye is the main ingredient, however, I hope you’ll all forgive me the pun. You should know well enough by now that I can’t resist!

The Wry Buccaneer
2 oz Old Overholt Rye
1 oz Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
.5 oz St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
Barspoon orgeat
2-3 dashes Bittermen’s Xocolatl Mole Bitters

Combine all ingredients in a shaker full of ice. Shake well, strain into a cocktail glass, and serve.
Garnish with 3 allspice berries, if you are so inclined!